Formula 1 with HRT and Toro Rosso
Further F1 tests with Red Bull and Toro Rosso followed during that winter and the Australian was nominated as the latter’s reserve driver for the 2011 F1 season. He drove for ISR Racing’s F.Renault 3.5 team – when his Friday F1 testing duties allowed – with another win on the streets of Monte Carlo the highlight. However, Red Bull wanted to evaluate Ricciardo’s F1 race potential so he was eased into the back-of-the-grid HRT team from the British GP. He accepted the inevitably uncompetitive opportunity with good grace and Ricciardo did enough to warrant a Toro Rosso race seat for the following season.
That 2012 campaign began with Ricciardo surviving a chaotic last lap (that included passing team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne) to snatch ninth in his home race. However, a botched start lost the benefits of his impressive sixth on the grid in Bahrain. The team was bolstered by the arrival of technical director James Key and Ricciardo scored another three ninth place finishes to claim 18th in the final standings.
Ricciardo and Vergne remained with Toro Rosso for a second season in 2013 and that proved to be a final audition for promotion to Red Bull. These former British F3 champions had initially been evenly matched but Ricciardo’s qualifying pace now gave him the edge. Seventh in China and Italy were his best results to date as he beat Vergne into 14th in the championship. That proved crucial when Red Bull’s Mark Webber announced he was retiring from F1 at the end of the season.
Ricciardo delivers on his promotion to Red Bull Racing
Ricciardo replaced his compatriot for the 2014 World Championship although the Red Bull RB10-Renault was out-powered by its Mercedes rivals. However, he shone nonetheless as team-mate and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel struggled to adapt to the new turbocharged formula. And on the days when the fates conspired, it was Ricciardo who benefited thanks to his exemplary tyre management. He passed Nico Rosberg’s brakeless Merc with two laps to go in Montréal to score a popular breakthrough victory. That was followed by back-to-back victories in Hungary (coming from third to first in final laps) and Belgium so Ricciardo finished in a solid third place in the final standings.
Any hope of building on that success was hindered as the relationship between Red Bull and Renault visibly deteriorated during 2015. It was only on F1’s tighter circuits, where engine power was less of a premium, when the team fought for podium finishes. Ricciardo was third in Hungary and second in Singapore, having qualified on the front row for the latter. Eighth in the championship represented a backwards step, especially as team-mate Daniil Kvyat narrowly beat him in the points.
In 2016, Kvyat was replaced part-way through the season by Max Verstappen, who began to pressure Ricciardo’s position as team leader. The Australian finished that season third in the championship behind the Mercedes team-mates. In 2017 Red Bull slipped behind Ferrari in the pecking order with Ricciardo and Verstappen finishing fifth and sixth in the drivers’ championship and not featuring the title fight despite the revamped regulations. The Australian took just one win all season in a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix though was unfortunate not to win in Monaco following a botched Red Bull pit stop handing victory to Lewis Hamilton.
The following season turned out to be Ricciardo’s final with Red Bull as the team put its focus onto Verstappen for the future. Both drivers won two races apiece all season but a series of unreliability crippled Ricciardo’s season and he slumped to sixth in the championship. He departed for Renault the following year.
Dead end at Renault
A move to Renault followed with one eye firmly on the future. The French team was slowly clawing its way from the back of the pack to a more competitive position and had finished the previous year a distant fourth in the team’s standings.
2019 was not what he had hoped for though as a lack of pace brought his first winless season since 2015. A season best finish of fourth came at the Italian Grand Prix.
2020 was only slightly better as the global pandemic brought a truncated season. Ricciardo returned to the podium twice, scoring a third-place finish in the Eifel and Emilia Romagna Grands Prix. He finished the season fifth in the championship but was on the move once again for 2021.
Switch to McLaren
After two fruitless years with Renault and without a clear path back to the front of the grid emerging at the team, Ricciardo swapped allegiences to McLaren for 2021.
The Australian partnered young charger Lando Norris at the team who had the measure of his vastly more experienced team-mate throughout the season.
Ricciardo struggled for competitiveness for large parts of the season but capitalised best at the Italian Grand Prix to win his first race since the 2018 Monaco GP. It was McLaren’s first win of the turbo-hybrid era and first since 2012.